The leadership of the U.S. Army Test, Measurement, and Diagnostic Equipment Activity is always focused on the numbers, whether the topic is calibration, measurement or employee engagement.
Headquartered at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, USATA is responsible for the TMDE calibration and repair support mission for the Army. In addition to Alabama, there are 42 USATA locations around the world, and Director Richard Parker said it is the people who matter the most in his organization.
Parker arrived at USATA in early 2020, which coincided with the COVID-19 travel restrictions, meaning he could not go out and meet more than half of his workforce. A year later he was permitted to travel to USATA locations around the world and since then, he has visited more than half of them. However, his visits are not about inspecting the work being completed at the locations; they are about talking to the people.
“The truth is, I needed to learn,” he said. “Visiting is about me learning — not just how we do it, but who we do it with and for, and discovering the operational environment. The TMDE enterprise is vast, very complicated and very dynamic, and we rely on our 42 team leaders to be the point people for it.”
With his workforce spread out across multiple states, countries and time zones, Parker said he wanted a way to be able to hear from everyone, so he established an Employee Engagement Council.
“The Employee Engagement Council is a method,” Parker said. “It’s a means to get after acknowledging and creating a forum in which employees have the opportunity to network, share ideas and express thoughts about their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the culture, and the environment.”
He added that while EECs are not mandatory, he believes they are necessary, especially when an organization has a predominantly civilian workforce, such as USATA.
Now in its second year, the USATA EEC has evolved since its creation 17 months ago. Serving on it is voluntary and none of the representatives are in a supervisory role, which was a very deliberate decision, according to Christopher Smith, who oversees the council.
Smith also serves as the USATA senior deputy director. However, he is not part of the chain of command and he describes his position on the EEC as a sounding board for the employees. He takes what he hears back to the leadership and helps facilitate organizational change.
He said, “I am a non-attribution senior manager in the organization, who employees can come to and say, ‘I’ve got a problem, or I have an idea and I can’t get it to have traction. Can you talk to me?’”
Smith does not lead the weekly meetings, but he does attend them all, and he hosts an “open mic session” after each EEC meeting. The meetings are organized and chaired by Miguel Montes, a calibration technician at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
Montes got involved with the EEC immediately after it was created, because he said he wanted “people like me to have a voice.”
He said his goals for the EEC are to strengthen the bonds and increase engagement within the USATA workforce, as well as improve communication.
“I find that people make a lot of assumptions when all we have is an email or a document, because it’s incomplete communication,” Montes said. “One of our initiatives for 2022 is regular articles highlighting the USATA workforce, to humanize the people at all of the stations and headquarters. It’s easier to communicate with people when you see they have challenges and have risen up to those challenges, and that we all care and are working toward the same mission. You feel like you know them.”
In addition to the articles, dubbed “The Accurate Times,” which is a play on words with the USATA mission of measurement and calibration, other initiatives include: a job-shadowing program, as well as improving how USATA information is shared across knowledge management platforms, particularly at the locations outside of Redstone Arsenal.
The EEC has already had a few successes. Montes said much of the USATA workforce in Europe now has the option to have alternative work schedules, which was an item discussed and brought forth to the leadership through the council.
Parker said when he travels to USATA locations, he asks each team who they think their best team player is and why, so he can recognize those individuals. Increasing employee recognition was one of the first items identified by the EEC.
For an organization focused on numbers, it can be somewhat ironic that the number of active EEC members tends to fluctuate, but Smith said he typically sees the same names pop up on the virtual meeting each week.
The group is collectively working on a charter to officially define leadership roles and length of service for EEC volunteers. Smith said he knows it is not feasible to have 42 representatives on a virtual call at once, but he is not opposed to members of the workforce joining the chat when they have an issue that needs addressing, but added he would also like them to propose a solution as well. Most importantly, he wants the entire USATA workforce to know the forum is available to them; it is their voice.
“I’m listening,” Smith said. “You can talk to me as if we are sitting across the table and you can be as candid as you want. If you have an issue, I don’t care what it is. Tell me. If you don’t put your voice in the meeting, there is no way we can know what the issue is and there is no way we can help solve it.”